by Shauna Hobbs, Director of Teaching and Learning
How do we ensure that students who are exposed to multiple sets of academic standards in both English and Portuguese have consistent experiences? This challenge has become Graded’s teaching and learning “problem of practice.” To increase academic achievement and prepare students to excel, Graded is committed to providing a rigorous education while aligning curriculum and academic expectations.
Developing a Consistent Schoolwide Curriculum
During Graded’s Strategic Plan process, focus groups identified the need for a consistent experience for students, regardless of the language of instruction. Using stakeholder input as well as academic achievement data, the strategic plan outlines goals and initiatives that ensure that courses are vertically aligned, scaffolding from one grade level to the next. We want to develop quality assessments that ensure consistency in PP-12 structures and expectations in both English and Portuguese courses. By vertically aligning standards across languages, we can provide a seamless transition between our Lower School, Middle School, and High School, as well as between our Portuguese and English curricula.
We are deepening our understanding of academic standards and expectations. This is done through the creation of learning targets, and development of a PP-12 vertical alignment focused on quality formative and summative assessments. The process of curriculum work requires the identification and prioritization of skills and content necessary for students to be successful from year to year. To ensure that Graded students have what they need for future success, the goal is to go deep and narrow the number of standards taught in both languages and across content areas. By doing this we ensure from grade to grade that students have the skills necessary for increasing academics. Faculty are utilizing the research of Larry Ainsworth, to select the most important standards to be mastered (power standards) using three criteria: readiness, leverage, and the knowledge of the student in the classroom.
Finding Alignment Between US and Brazilian National Standards
The release of new Brazilian National Standards, the Base Nacional Comum Curricular (BNCC) provides us with an opportune time for teachers to begin discussing the commonalities between the American Education Reaches Out (AERO) standards and the BNCC.
The rationale for the discussion centers on the experience of the Brazilian student whose instructional day is primarily in English and with a lesser percentage of instruction in the first language of Portuguese. Individual courses and instruction across all content areas are strong, but there is a need for academic experiences between the two curricula to be systemically connected.
A focus on common skills emphasizes the student's educational experience in English. Language development research shows that instruction of common skills in both languages enhances the heritage language and increases academic achievement.
Recognizing that the foundations of both standards--AERO and the BNCC--are aligned, we have started this process by creating a document evaluating the commonalities between AERO and BNCC most important skills and content and focusing on correlating academic skills.
After completing the vertical alignment of their PP-12 expectations, the English and Portuguese departments are correlating standards across languages. The vertical alignment of PP-12 standards inclusive of common skills, outcomes, and mastery expectations will result in a more rigorous, deeper experience for students, regardless of the language of instruction.
This process of linking the AERO standards with the BNCC standards has sparked conversations. How we can use one set of standards to support the other set of standards? How can we enable teachers to articulate when and why the one set of standards may support the other standards in depth? Discussing the meaning of the different standards has prompted richer, deeper conversations between English and Portuguese teachers. This work is resulting in common faculty understandings of the various skills students need.
Bringing Alignment to Assessments and Next Steps
As we finalize the linking of the AERO and BNCC standards PP-12, we are also evaluating how to align our assessments. Utilizing common assessments in English and Portuguese that have similar skills and common standards provides us with an evaluation of similar skills in both languages. The results will allow faculty to address and to understand student needs.
Assessing common power standards to evaluate skills and areas of challenges in both languages is a way to identify students who have academic needs that go beyond language development. While evaluation is only one data point, the results help to support the identification of bilingual students who may need cognitive supports in addition to second language services.
We are still a long way from being finished, but this work on standards and assessments has allowed us to address our problem of practice. It has started us down a road of providing a seamless experience for all students in grades PP-12 both vertically and across languages. It has also created some unintended positive results, including curricular conversations between foreign and Brazilian faculty about definitions of rigor and academic expectations.